The lionfish is an invasive, non-native species of fish that threaten's Florida’s native fish and wildlife. Originally from the Indo-Pacific, lionfish have become established in the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and throughout the Caribbean Sea. It is believed their introduction to this hemisphere began during an aquarium release.
Lookdowns (Selene vomer) are members of the jack family. When young, their unusual body shape is small enough to resemble a swimming silver dollar. Young lookdowns also have long, green, streamer-like dorsal and anal fins and a faint striped pattern that helps them blend in with sea grass. Lookdowns sometimes swim in a head-down position searching for small crustaceans and worms.
The orange filefish (Alutera schoepfii) has a barbed, file-like spine on its head. It likes to swim at an angle, with its tail up and head pointed down. Related to the triggerfish, the orange filefish has a tiny, pursed mouth suitable for eating small fish and shrimp. Orange filefish vary in color from uniform olive gray to rich orange yellow, and are found along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.
Four species of pipefish (Syngnathus spp.) can be found in the Reserve. All pipefish species have a tube-shaped mouth and a long, narrow body ringed with bony plates. Their olive-brown coloration helps them blend in with surroundings: sea grasses or algae. As with its relative, the seahorse, the male pipefish is responsible for incubating eggs, which are deposited by his mate on his abdomen.
Reaching lengths up to 15 inches, this triangular-shaped fish relies on camouflage and slow, stealthy movements to sneak up on food. Batfish have modified pectoral fins underneath their bodies that help them “walk” across the floor of the estuary. The batfish uses its esca (lure) to attract small prey towards its mouth.
This small fish is in the same family as groupers, exhibiting similar body and fin shape, pupil color and shape, and the characteristic large mouth and lips. Small in size, pygmy sea bass (Serraniculus pumilio) are bottom dwellers often found around sea grass beds. They are synchronously hermaphroditic, meaning they possess both male and female reproductive organs at the same time.
Also known as barbfish, scorpionfish (Scorpaena brasiliensis) are brightly colored masters of camouflage that slowly creep up on their unsuspecting prey. Eye or gill movement in these fish may be the only visible signs of life. Named for their ability to inject venom from spines in their fins, these fish can inflict painful wounds if stepped on or not handled carefully.
South Florida is home to many species of sharks, skates and rays. Many breed in the shallow, protected waters of mangrove estuaries where they are safe from predators and surrounded by a bountiful food supply. Young sharks thrive in the brackish bays of the Ten Thousand Islands. When nearing maturity, they leave the bay for deeper waters offshore. Research is ongoing in the reserve to learn more about how sharks use the estuaries as nursery grounds.